Spring may be just days away, but winter hasn’t left us yet. That’s especially evident in the northeastern United States, where Winter Storm Stella this week dumped more than three feet of snow in some areas, stranded travelers and left thousands without power.
It’s also evident at McArthur Farms in Bennettsville, where row covers have been placed over most of the strawberry crop in a last-ditch effort to preserve as much of the fruit as possible in light of this week’s frigid forecast.
“Temperatures are really rough on all fruit crops right now,” said farmer Rebecca McArthur, who has blueberries, blackberries and peaches in jeopardy in addition to the strawberries. “We are not only battling the cold temperatures, but also the frost. They each cause different struggles with end results of loss of fruit.”
Weather has been a factor in this year’s strawberry crop since the beginning. Plants are typically set out in late September or early October, but Hurricane Matthew with all its rain delayed that process until well into November.
Even so, the crop began producing berries early due to recent unseasonably warm weather. McArthur typically doesn’t have strawberries ready for sale until April, but she’s had them available for several weeks now and the rest of the season looked promising - until this week.
Lows dipped into the low-mid 20s Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and are forecast in the upper 20s tonight before rebounding.
Those are “critical temperatures,” according to McArthur, who had tripled the amount of strawberries she planted this year in an effort to expand her business.
Row covers were placed over most of her strawberries, which are grown both at her farm on Highway 38 South and in Darlington County. But even that isn’t a sure thing when it comes to protection; the covers are only truly effective up to temperatures in the upper 20s.
“We are in a wait-and-see pattern right now,” McArthur said. “We won’t be able to assess actual loss until we see how much will make it and recover.”